Narrator: How long the intrepid Max Thornfield remained unconscious, he couldn’t
say. His stomach only hurt for a few moments where Drallus had buried a monomolecular
axe, and then there were no sensations of any kind before he awakened in an
Max: (his voice is strange, with bizarre echoes) What…where am I? Tom?
Keane: (ditto) I’m here, George. Where are the others?
Jimmy: (ditto) I’m here. Are you all right?
Max: I’m fine, Tom. But what’s wrong with your voice?
Jimmy: I don’t know. Where’s James?
Molly: (normal voice) I’m here, Jimmy. Why are you talking like that?
Jimmy: (normal again) Like what?
Keane: (normal) What are you talking about?
Max: (normal) We must be disoriented. Where are we? The last thing I remember
is Drallus trying to cut me in half.
Jimmy: What was she doing? She could have killed us.
Narrator: The Flashpack looked as one in the direction Molly indicated. They
were standing on a promontory overlooking a vast canyon. Beneath a sky without
color countless millions milled and wandered, watched over by strange many-armed
Molly: I think she did.
Max: What the physics is going on?
Jimmy: Are we dead?
Molly: I think so. That means this must be the Bardo.
Keane: The what now?
Molly: Did you never go to Sunday school, Sara?
Keane: There wasn’t a good one near mother’s estate.
Max: The Bardo is the afterlife, Keane. It’s where souls go after death
before they reincarnate. If we’re here, Drallus must have killed us.
Jimmy: Why would she do that? We’re her friends.
Max: Those hemophagic horrors must have controlled her mind!
Keane: Those JERKS! When I get through with them…
Molly: You can’t do anything, Sara. In a few days all our memories
will be gone and we’ll be reborn on Earth.
Max: Maybe there’s a way to get some help.
Narrator: Max pulled out a small, round disc from his pocket, raised it over
his head, and pressed its large green button. (*SCIENCE NOISE!*)
Keane: You think he’ll come here?
Max: He’s never let us down before.
Molly: Max, that won’t work. The dead can’t contact the living
from the Bardo. It’s impossible.
Jimmy: So that’s it, then? The end of the Flashpack, slaughtered by
one of their own?
Max: Not if I have anything to say about it! Molly, who do we talk to about
Molly: Uh…Max? We’re dead. For real. No fooling. It’s over.
Max: (determined, balls-to-the-wall hero) Bullcrap! (all
gasp, save Max) We’ve had some bad times before, gang. We’ve faced down monsters
and villains and the Abstract Concept of Despair, and I will be DAMNED if
we’re going to stop now! Slotter and Furtrace are still out there, Drallus
needs our help, and the whole universe is in peril from Vampiros! I’m
not giving up.
Jimmy: Neither am I!
Keane: That’s three of us.
Molly: Well, then I guess we’d better do this.
Max: That’s right. Flashpack!
Narrator: Into the Valley of Death went the young adventurers, taking stock
of their resources while they descended. It seemed that their various tools,
instruments and weapons had followed them into the world beyond. After pushing
through the ranks of milling dead they came to a female figure with many arms
who was touching the spirits and whispering reassuringly.
Molly: We’ll want to start with her.
Jimmy: Who is she?
Max: The bodhisattva (pronounced bow-dee-sut-vah) of Infinite Compassion,
Max: Yeah, her.
Keane: Some kind of cosmic do-gooder?
Jimmy: Sounds like just the person who can help us.
Guanyin: (Warm, kind, infinitely gentle) Hello, Flashpack.
Molly: Hello, Gracious Lady. It’s an honor.
Guanyin: I must say I didn’t expect you so soon.
Jimmy: Um, actually ma’am, we were hoping you could help us with that.
Is there any way for us to get back to the world of the living as ourselves?
Guanyin: Hmm…tricky. I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.
Molly: Then it’s impossible.
Keane: She didn’t say that.
Guanyin: (gently amused) Well spotted, Sara Keane. The one who can help you
is far from here, many days travel through the Bardo.
Jimmy: Who is it?
Guanyin: The Master of Skillful Means.
Molly: Vimalakirti? (pronounced vim-allah-keer-tee)
Guanyin: He’s passing through the Bardo between his lives. You will
find him by the bridge over the Vast and Formless Expanse. Be warned, however;
it is easy to lose one’s way in the Land of Death.
Molly: Many thanks, Lady Looking Down.
Guanyin: Only for a little longer, Molly Singh. When next I travel the world,
it shall be Lord. And don’t let your heart grow heavy; he feels much
like you do.
Molly: Um…wow. Thanks. Let’s go.
Narrator: And so the Flashpack ventured forth in search of the bodhisattva.
Along the way, their talk turned from their current predicament to the matters
Molly: So once we get back, how are we going to defeat the Vampiros?
Keane: Well, William said that Lucien was the progenitor of those Vampiros
we killed back in the 40s. He and his wife Calliope are powerful, close to
the Dread Emperor Himself. If we can destroy them, we can take out a good
chunk of the Empire in one stroke.
Max: Sounds like a plan. That Sir William’s a pretty useful guy to
Keane: (kind of embarrassed) Yeah. He’s real…useful.
Molly: (scoffs) I’ll bet.
Keane: What’s that supposed to mean?!
Molly: You go to pieces around him! All your crap about logic and reason,
then when he’s around you’re all "duh duh duh, want nookie."
Keane: I’d never use the word ‘duh’!
Jimmy: Just ‘nookie’?
Keane: (More amused than offended) Shut up!
Max: I think it’s kind of sweet, actually. None of us really date much,
what with saving the world and all.
Molly: Thinking of striking out with someone special, Max?
Max: (suddenly backpedaling) What, me? Oh, I don’t know about that…leading
the Flashpack is a big job, and I have a lot of responsibilities. It’s
okay for Keane to get out more, but I don’t know if I can spare the
Molly: (hiding disappointment) Oh. Okay, you’re probably right.
Narrator: A week of rough travel across rugged terrain found them at the
edge of the Vast and Formless Expanse. At the edge of the rocky ledge they
looked out over the void.
Jimmy: What are those big holes?
Molly: Many of the Hell-realms have openings into the Expanse. There’s
the Hell of Fire, the Hell of Creeping Ice, the Hell of Waters…
Keane: I thought they disproved Hell in the mid 2090s.
Max: One Hell, yes, but many hell-realms exist for those who do evil.
Molly: We should be careful near the Expanse. Things aren’t as solid
and normal as we’re used to.
Jimmy: I think that’s the bridge Guanyin told us about.
Narrator: Another three days of traveling took the Flashpack to the bridge,
where a man dressed in rags sat in the Lotus Position, his eyes fixed on the
Keane: This clown’s the guy who can get us back to life?
Molly: Sara! That’s Vimalakirti! He’s the Master of Skillful
Means, able to enlighten with a single sentence!
Max: If anybody can get us out of here, it’s him. Jimmy, get his attention.
Max: People like you; you’re nice.
Jimmy: (nonplussed) Thanks. Uh, excuse me, sir. We were wondering –
Vimalakirti: (ancient, ineffable, strange) You seek the way to escape from
the Bardo, to find a way back to the flesh that has burdened you so recently.
Jimmy: Well, yeah. Can you help us?
Vimalakirti: No mortal whose karma dooms him to die can return to the world
of the living.
Molly: Oh no!
Jimmy: There’s no way at all?
Vimalakirti: No more than a man might leap into the air and never land.
Max: That can’t be it! We’ve traveled so far!
Vimalakirti: And you shall travel further still, Flashpack. Behold the Vast
and Formless Expanse. You shall cross the bridge over it.
Keane: And then what?
Vimalakirti: Then nothing. You shall not reach the other side.
Jimmy: Then why cross at all?
Vimalakirti: I have seen it. It shall be so.
Molly: Okay. Thank you, Blessed One.
Jimmy: Where are you going?
Molly: To the bridge.
Max: But we’ll never make it!
Molly: I know.
Keane: Don’t be stupid, Molly! Why would we go there, then?
Molly: (shouting, scared, angry) Because it’s what happens, Sara! He’s
seen what happens, and it’s us crossing the bridge! You can be content
to wither away at the edge of nowhere, but some of us have faith, and if the
last thing I do as Molly is cross the Abyss, then that’s what I’ll
Max: You heard the guy, folks. Let’s move.
Narrator: The bridge stretched for miles beyond the horizon in either direction
with no visible means of support. As the Flashpack crossed, they were silent,
grim; their last trip together was a quiet one. Suddenly, Jimmy pointed excitedly.
Jimmy: What’s that?!
Max: It looks like some kind of hole in time.
Keane: Could it be the future?
Molly: More like a future. One that might have been if we hadn’t…you
Narrator: The hole showed a throng of people gathered on the Washington Mall.
At one end was a podium, on which stood the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice.
Justice: (booming over a microphone) Ladies and Gentlemen, President James
Thaddeus Kovacs! (roar of applause)
Max: Well, how about that.
Keane: Real shame.
Molly: There’s another. Sara, is that you?
Narrator: Through this hole in time the Flashpack could see a balcony overlooking
a vast country estate. On it sat Sir William and Keane, both much older, holding
hands and smiling at one another.
Max: Is that a wedding ring on your hand, Sara?
Molly: Oh my gods…
Narrator: Suddenly the couple turned toward the house. Out ran four children,
impeccably dressed and smiling happily.
Jimmy: Sara, I’m so sorry…
Keane: (on the verge of tears) So am I. (sound of running, then the grunt
of a powerful forward leap)
Max: (shouting after her) Keane, no! We need to get back!
Molly: She falling toward the Hell of Dark Metal! We need to save her!
Captain Eternity: (as Molly finishes, he is declaiming
in his normal voice, but distant, almost unheard over the Flashpack. They
talk over him.) The courage
to not fall or pause…
Jimmy: How? She’s falling too fast!
Captain Eternity: (as before) A loving heart, a righteous cause…
Molly: Maybe I can whip something up!
Captain Eternity: (louder now) ‘Til evil ends, ‘til all are free…
Max: Look! Over there!
Captain Eternity: (now as normal) I’ll fight for all eternity!
Narrator: Captain Eternity, the bare-knuckled Bastion of Bravery, swooped
past the Flashpack wearing an n-metal wingpack! He dived toward the maw of
the Hell of Dark Metal, rapidly closing the gap between him and the falling
Jimmy: Did he get her?
Molly: I can’t tell! They’re too far away!
Narrator: Suddenly the marvelous Man of Might was beating back up toward
the bridge, Keane in his arms.
Max: Is she all right, Cap?
Captain Eternity: She passed out during the fall, but besides that she should
be fine. How about the rest of you?
Molly: We’re fine, but… what are you doing here?
Captain Eternity: Well, one of the Junior Infiniteer Signal Beacons went
off, so I came to investigate!
Jimmy: But I thought the living couldn’t be contacted from the Bardo…
Max: Not by the dead!
Captain Eternity: What do you mean, Max?
Max: Vimalakirti said that no mortal ‘doomed by karma to die’ could
go back to the world.
Molly: Then maybe we weren’t meant to die yet! Max, you’re a
Max: Thanks, Molly. I just wish I knew how to get back.
Captain Eternity: I’m afraid that my wingpack can’t carry you
all out of here.
Max: That’s all right, Cap. Thanks for arriving just in time!
Captain Eternity: My pleasure, Max. Now, ever upward!
Narrator: The Courageous Captain leapt into the air, his wingpack carrying
him up and out of sight.
Jimmy: Wait…what did Vimalakirti say about leaping?
Max: That getting back was as impossible as leaping and never land…ing…
Jimmy: Maybe Sara wasn’t that far off.
Molly: Are you guys crazy? We could land in the Hell of Dark Metal! Drowning
in steel for a billion years with no light!
Max: Then I guess we just need a little faith, Molly. Grab Keane.
Narrator: The Flashpack lined up at the edge of the bridge and looked at
one another for a long moment.
Narrator: The kids leapt into the void, plummeting at unheard-of speeds toward
the mouth of the Hell-realm. As they fell, they were surrounded by a bright
light, and then there was nothingness. Can the ‘pack return to their
bodies in the world of the living? Will they return to a world they can
save? Are their other comrades even still alive? Find out in the next episode
Epic Echoes: "Flashpack Ex Machina."